Report on the 2014 World Puzzle Championships in Croydon

By - Tuesday 19th August, 2014

Last week Croydon welcomed the world’s greatest mindbogglers, brainteasers and lovers of the cryptic and abstruse. The reasons aren’t puzzling

The World Puzzle Championships in full swing.
Photo by Alan O’Donnell, used with permission.

All last week the Selsdon Park Hotel, Croydon, was a hive of head-scratching activity. Forty nations were represented in the World Puzzle Championships, as 180 competitors ranging in age from 65 to just 7 years old fought it out across a range of puzzle disciplines.

This was the 23rd consecutive year for the World Puzzle Championships, and the 9th year for the World Sudoku Championships. Their presence in Croydon represented a bit of a coup for British newbies Mike Colloby, an engineer by profession, and computer programmer Alan O’Donnell, who founded the UK Puzzle Association in 2011. With over 1,000 regular users of its website, the fledgling association offered to host this year’s championships on the grounds that Croydon, with its excellent public transport links, presented no problems for anyone to get to – leaving competitors’ brains free to participate in the event.

The struggle for the world sudoku crown culminates in a play-off between the top ten performers

German, US, Japanese, Chinese, Czech and Turkish competitors were among those present, solving a variety of puzzles selected to be language and culture-neutral, and based on logic, numerical sequences or visual elements. Interpreters were on hand to explain puzzles to any competitors who needed it, and a public meeting at the start of the event provided everyone with an opportunity to ask questions.

On Tuesday 12th August, I manage to speak briefly to Alan O’Donnell while the World Sudoku Championships are in full swing. Things sound hectic with eleven 45 minutes rounds of sudoku to organise and many different varieties of the game. The struggle for the world crown culminates in a final play-off between the top ten performing competitors, who are given the same number of puzzles to solve but allocated staggered starting times based on their earlier performances.

There’s a definite buzz around the Selsdon Park Hotel

“Gender distribution among our competitors is around 70% male”, Alan O’Donnell explains, “but I don’t think there’s any particular reason for that – it’s just to do with who find puzzles most interesting. The South Koreans have sent a junior team of five 10 and 11-year-olds, so we have them running round the hotel as well, which all adds to the atmosphere”.

There’s no prize money and everyone involved is there purely for the fun of puzzling – but there’s still some tension when competition gets underway, and a definite buzz all around Selsdon Park throughout the event. Festivities culminated in an awards presentation by Councillor Manju Shahul-Hameed, Mayor of Croydon, on Saturday 16th August.

It’s all definitely reminiscent of the World Memory Championships, held at Croydon Conference Centre in November 2013 – another celebration of the intricate workings of the human mind. It seems that Croydon is becoming a destination of choice for an international elite of mental mastery – an unexpected achievement, but definitely one to take pride in.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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